Tilt delves directly into the interests and anxieties of the man himself, and may actually be, despite former album titles, the first time we truly see Scott.
Transitioning directly from Walker’s run of Scott albums in the late ‘60s to this, one might think that this is a total rebirth for the singer, but glimpses into the world of the avant-garde can be found in his music in small doses from “Plastic Palace People” to more prominent incorporations over time, up to and including songs from Climate of Hunter like “Track Six.” In hindsight, it seems like everything had been building towards this—there was a gap of 11-years between Climate of Hunter and its follow-up, but the songs that make up Scott Walker’s 1995 Tilt feel as though they took a lifetime and a career to write.
For so long in his career, Walker tried to walk the line between pop-star and heady, conceptual artist. While he had been tiptoeing towards experimental music for a while, the uninhibited dedication towards the avant-garde and distinctly political and literary on Tilt makes it the line of demarcation in Walker’s career between being a pop artist and an experimentalist. When most people speak about Walker’s work, it is mostly discussed in two eras: the music he made before Tilt and the music he made after.
Sweeping opener “Farmer in the City” is at once a threnody specifically for Pier Paolo Pasolini and more broadly for the most vile and violent portions of the world and the devastation left in the wake of a colonial rampage. A gorgeous, emotional suite that lay bare the themes of abstraction, societal brutality and sexual deviancy that run throughout before falling head-first into the thick of the broken and ashen settings Walker constructs. “Patriot (A Single)” is the closest the album comes to reuniting listeners to the cinematic nature of the opening track, but portions of relative sonic blankness with only Walker’s voice and interjecting flutes and drums keep it from straightforwardness.
Walker’s horrifying and distressing vision of the world on Tilt is built successfully upon the interplay of the sometimes overwhelmingly claustrophobic and sometimes eerily vacant atmospheres within. Walker mumbles quietly at the beginning of “Cockfighter” over an unnerving crackling and a sullen horn before harsh, industrial crashes, without warning, take control of the song. Walker croons over unpredictable movements of steady drums, shrieking woodwinds, dark ambiance, and harsh noise. “Bouncer See Bouncer…” remains mostly quiet, with an undying drumbeat like a death march and a disorienting metallic rattling that stays steady. The scope grows exponentially on “Manhattan”—organs and heavy drums engulf—as Walker cries in pain and disgust over the colonial slave-trade.
Both the multi-faceted “Bolivia ‘95” and the desolate “Rosary” play like prayers and surrenders. The former uses jittery percussion and guitars to create a ravaged and endless landscape and the latter closes Walker’s grand statement with just a trembling guitar and voice echoing into undefined black—both have a sense of desperation for anything that might help change their surroundings, even if its futility is known.
Tilt requires and rewards those who listen with a close focus and emotional vulnerability—it is the first album in an already 30-year long career that dwells entirely in challenge and darkness, forcing listeners to confront humanistic horrors head-on through obtuse music and poetry. As transcendent as many of early albums are, they all have a sense of performance and a feeling of creating with an onlooker in mind. Without any of the dressings of pop-stardom or chic, Tilt delves directly into the interests and anxieties of the man himself, and may actually be, despite former album titles, the first time we truly see Scott.